Looking back on his career, David Peterson admits much of what unfolded was not part of the initial plan.
“My goal was to be a teacher,” said Peterson, who grew up in Montevideo. “When I graduated from college there was a huge surplus of teachers. So, I decided to try law, and it worked out very well for me.”
Actually, said Peterson, when he finished law school there was a surplus of lawyers, which meant he was willing to go just about anywhere for a job.
That willingness led him north to Crookston. Peterson recalled having to look at a map of Minnesota to find Crookston when he first applied.
“I worked there for a couple of years as a part-time assistant county attorney and part time with a private firm,” Peterson said. “That was an interesting experience, because it is a different culture than I was used to in western Minnesota.”
When his boss lost his bid for re-election in 1978, Peterson also lost his position and was back on the hunt for a job.
He landed a little closer to home when he was offered a position as an assistant county attorney in Lyon County. As was the case in Crookston, he also spent time working for a private law firm in Marshall.
In those days, Peterson explained, the county attorney position was not a full time job, so county attorneys maintained their private firms in addition to working in the prosecutorial role for their respective county.
Due to the fact that lawyers like Peterson worked in prosecution in the public sector, their private law work was limited.
“I didn’t do criminal defense,” he explained, adding much of his private workload involved wills, estates and even some tax work for clients.
As leadership changed, so did Peterson’s role, as he was appointed to fill the role of county attorney when his boss George Harrelson became a district court judge.
“I was elected in the next term,” said Peterson.
Then the opportunity to fill a new role in the legal system was suggested for Peterson – one he did not anticipate.
When then judge Wayne Farnberg announced he would be stepping down from the bench in Redwood County, Peterson was en-couraged to submit his name for the position.
Again, said Peterson, it was not part of the plan to ever become a judge.
In the end he submitted his name for consideration, and because it was a mid-term resignation, filling the bench was done by governor’s appointment.
So, May 2, 1990, David Peterson became Judge David Peterson, and for the past 23 years he has continued in that role.
Page 2 of 2 - “I was fortunate to get the appointment by Gov. Per-pich,” said Peterson, adding he knew there were several others who had applied for the position.
“I have never regretted being here,” said Peterson.
After his initial appointment, Peterson was re-elected in 1992, 1998, 2004 and 2010, as each term for a judge is six years.
Peterson, who officially retired April 30, said he is not completely giving up his role in the courts, as he is going to serve as a senior judge.
What that means is he fills in on the bench in the fifth district when the seated judge is not available.
Looking back at his career, Peterson said he has many fond memories of his time on the bench, and he said he feels a sense of satisfaction in the work he did.
He especially feels good about the work to cut down on DWIs in the county by establishing a mandatory 48-hours in jail. He also is proud of the work which has been done with the drug court program and believes his decision to send those convicted of DWI to a MADD Victim Impact Panel has made a difference in their lives.
Peterson said he feels now is a good time for him to step down, and he plans to stay busy in the community as a volunteer wherever he is able. He also would like to travel more, enjoy the Minnesota Twins and catch up on some reading.
Peterson said is philosophy was always to be fair and respectful to anyone who came before him.
“For most people this is the only time in life they are going to be in a courtroom,” he said. “It is a big moment. I believe everyone deserves their day in court.”
Peterson said he has been on the job long enough to see those young people who were in trouble and whose lives have been changed. Seeing that gives him a sense of satisfaction.
Peterson also acknowledge those he has worked with over the years, adding he could not have done the job without being surrounded by such good people who helped make his job easier.